Beyond the Contours of Normally Acceptable Political Violence: Is Cameroon a Conflict/Transitional Society in the Offing?

Keywords: Anglophone problem, political violence, human rights violations in Cameroon, accountability, conflict society, transitional justice


Legal scholars and other social scientists agree that political violence comprising assaults on civil and political liberties may occur in the context of contentious politics. Unfortunately, there have been instances in history where such politics is marked by intermittent attacks against people's rights and freedoms. Such attacks occur when politics has gone sour, and there are times when the violence exceeds the bounds of what is acceptable. From the documented atrocities of Nazi Germany, the horrendous crimes of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, the outrageous crimes perpetrated during the genocide in Rwanda, the shameful and despicable inhumanities inflicted on the people of Darfur in the Sudan, and the violence in post-electoral Kenya, to the bloodshed in areas like Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, etc, violent conflict has punctuated world history. Added to this list of countries is Cameroon, which in the last quarter of 2016 degenerated into a hotspot of political violence in the English-speaking regions. The perpetration of political violence in Cameroon has raised serious questions that may be relevant not only to the resolution of the political problem that gave rise to the violence but also to laying the foundations of a post-conflict Cameroon that is united and honours the principles of truth, justice and reconciliation.

This paper describes some of the salient occurrences of political violence in Cameroon and argues that the presence of specific elements elevates this violence to the level of a serious crime in international law. It is argued herein that crimes against humanity may have been committed during the state action against the Anglophones in Cameroon. It is also argued that the political character of the violence, added to the scale of the victimisation and its systematic and protracted nature, qualify Cameroon as a transitional society engaged in conflict that is in need of transitional justice.

Reflecting on the extent of the suffering of the victims of such political violence, this paper discusses the function of the justice system in establishing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable. Past instances of political violence in Cameroon have been glossed over, but in our opinion, healing a fragmented and disunited Cameroon with its history of grave violations of human rights requires that the perpetrators be held accountable, and that truth and justice should prevail. Such considerations should be factored into the legal and political architecture of a post-conflict, transitional Cameroon.


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Author Biographies

Avitus A Agbor, North-West University

LLB (Hons), LLM, PhD. Research Assocaite Professor at the Faculty of Law, North-West University, Mafikeng Campus, South Africa. Email:

Esther E Njieassam, South African Research Chair in International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Dr E Njieassam is a postdoctoral fellow at the South African Research Chair in International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds an LLB from the University of Buea, Cameroon; an LLM and LLD from North-West University, Mmabatho, South Africa.


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